TOOTSIE ROLL TRASH CHARMS CITY GARBAGE BIGS

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Community activists have been calling for it all along. Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari got with the program last month. Now, for the first time, the Department of Sanitation seems to be coming around: retrofitting the city’s garbage transfer stations to ship trash out of town might not be such a bad idea. And one company that’s been squeezed out of the garbage contracting process could find itself on the top of the heap.

After New Jersey rejected New York’s trash plans last month, the Sanitation Department asked the five companies vying for coveted long-term trash hauling contracts to revise and resubmit their bids. The big change: The city will now consider proposals that include retrofitting.

Then, last week, the Department of Sanitation announced a proposal to demonstrate at Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill a shrink-wrapping process that turns trash into neat, unstinky one-ton bales. The proposal comes from ECDC Environmental, which says the technology will make revamping the transfer stations feasible.

The experiment arrives soon after the appointment of Molinari ally Kevin Farrell as the city’s new Sanitation Commissioner. Molinari wants Fresh Kills to be closed on time in 2002 more than any other person on the planet–and believes that retrofitting is the only way the city will be able to close the landfill without a dragged-out fight.

“There’s always a movement afoot to file lawsuits against the long-term [garbage] plan,” says Nicholas Dmytryszyn, Molinari’s environmental engineer. “If this [shrink-wrap] technology is a way for the city to do the long term plan, then it should be considered.”

ECDC courted Molinari, inviting him to its Long Island HQ to smell their tightly-wrapped bundles of garbage. The beep liked the parcels enough to bring two home to Staten Island and show them off at his January State of the Borough address.

And ECDC knows it has a p.r. winner on its hands: The bundles are “much like a big Tootsie Roll,” spokesperson Bill Gay told Newsday. The city hopes hermetically-sealed garbage will be more palatable to other states. Packaged trash may also be more acceptable here at home, which could be good news for ECDC’s corporate parent, Allied Waste Industries.

Last month, that Phoenix-based company–the nation’s number-three garbage hauler–announced a $9 billion buyout of rival Browning-Ferris Industries, currently number two. The merger is awaiting Justice Department approval, which could come as early as the end of this month.

A top contender for the long-term New York City deal, BFI originally proposed a new waste-transfer facility for Carteret, New Jersey, which was supposed to handle Manhattan and Queens garbage. But in its revised bid, according to sources familiar with its plans, the company is proposing to resurrect a politically explosive plan to locate a waste-transfer facility at the foot of 65th Street in heavily Republican Bay Ridge. If the shrink-wrap demonstration works out, plastic may be one way for BFI to keep neighborhood resistance muffled.